Almost Timely News, 7 August 2022: The SEA Change in Marketing

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Almost Timely News, 7 August 2022: The SEA Change in Marketing

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What’s On My Mind: The SEA Change in Marketing

This past week, I had the pleasure of talking with folks about how AI is impacting marketing at the annual MAICON (Marketing AI Conference) event in Cleveland, and one of the points I made is worth digging into here: the SEA change in marketing.

SEA is a silly acronym I made up that stands for Someone Else’s AI. It’s the single biggest obstacle to our marketing, assuming we have a product or service that doesn’t suck.

Take a moment to think about this. How much of your daily life is mediated by Someone Else’s AI?

If you shop on big sites like Amazon or eBay, Someone Else’s AI is nudging you strongly with product suggestions.

If you search on a search engine like Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo, Someone Else’s AI is controlling what you do and don’t find. There may be entire corners of the web that you will never see or experience because Someone Else’s AI has deemed them inappropriate or irrelevant to you.

If you listen to music on Spotify, Someone Else’s AI is determining what songs to recommend to you, especially if you’re doing things like putting together playlists.

If you watch shows on platforms like Netflix, Someone Else’s AI is suggesting to you all the time what else you should watch.

If you consume news, especially through news apps like Apple News, Google News, or a social network, Someone Else’s AI is determining what news to show you and what news you shouldn’t see.

If you participate in mainstream social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc. Someone Else’s AI is telling you what to watch, who to listen to, even which friends are important to you.

As consumers, many of these recommendations aren’t bad. Spotify can recommend new songs or music to us that we might not otherwise find. Netflix can surface shows we might never think to watch. We can debate the merits of recommendation engines – the AI technology behind all these methods of filtering content – another time, but the reality is that much of our reality as consumers is a mediated experience.

As marketers? This can really, really suck. I don’t have control over whether Facebook shows my post or not. I don’t have control over whether Google lists my website for a relevant term on page 1 or page 175 of its results – despite what Google says in their Webmaster chats and public materials. I don’t have control over whether YouTube recommends my video or Instagram shows my Reel to my friends or TikTok puts my video in the For You page. Someone Else’s AI is in charge of all that and it’s out of my control. I can follow all the best practices and still gain no ground.

In fact, in the last few years, Someone Else’s AI has made things extremely difficult for marketers. It used to be that the risk of content performing poorly due to Someone Else’s AI was fairly low. We publish a tweet and it goes nowhere, so what? No big deal, we try again. Then images became the preferred format. That requires more effort, more resources. Then audio. Then video. Now we’re at a point where, just to satisfy Someone Else’s AI, we may have to invest substantially in content creation abilities that are very expensive – and when our efforts fall flat, we’ve burned a lot more resources than a text tweet that no one liked. And as we see companies like Facebook push harder and harder for more complex media formats like their Metaverse, we should see the writing on the wall: only those willing to pay a lot of money and invest a lot of time will do well with Someone Else’s AI.

So, as a marketer, what do I do to escape this rat race? I need two insurance policies against Someone Else’s AI. If I invest suitably in both these insurance policies – and these are substantial investments over a long period of time – I will circumvent and mitigate the worst effects of Someone Else’s AI.

Insurance policy #1 is my brand, the brand of my company, my products and services, even me as a person. When you think of getting help with analytics or marketing operations and the first thing you think about is my company, Trust Insights, then instead of looking for help generally, you’ll probably Google my company or perhaps even type my company’s domain name in directly to your browser. My brand’s strength dramatically reduces the chances Someone Else’s AI recommends someone else.

Remember that brand is reputation + recall. We want people to remember us for good things, and we accomplish that by investing heavily in the relationships we have with our audience, plus having products and services that don’t suck.

Insurance policy #2 is my community, the people I’ve built good relationships with over time. Ideally, I have a mechanism of communication with my community that doesn’t have Someone Else’s AI involved at all, like this newsletter (thank you for reading and subscribing), or something like a Slack group or a Discord server where no algorithm, no recommendation engine is competing against me – it’s just a direct line from me to you. It could even be an old school BBS or forum – heck, even a print magazine plus a PO Box. Whatever it is, as long as I have a direct line to you and you have a direct line to me, I’ve got an insurance policy against Someone Else’s AI.

Why am I spending so much time on this, and why, as someone who talks a lot about AI and its benefits, am I seemingly railing against AI? It’s not AI in general. It’s Someone Else’s AI. All Ai is optimized for specific outcomes, and unless we’re the engineers building the software models, we don’t necessarily know what those outcomes are, but we can all make some fairly decent guesses. What is Facebook’s AI optimized for? Making Facebook money. What is TikTok’s AI optimized for? How about LinkedIn? Twitter? Netflix?

You guessed it. Every instance of Someone Else’s AI is optimized for them. Not for us, not marketers. As marketers, we’re in many cases the enemy of Someone Else’s AI because we’re taking away potential money the parent company’s AI could be diverting to them. It’s one of the reasons we’ve seen influencers steadily losing ground on mainstream social networks over time – because those dollars that go to an Instagram influencer are dollars not going to Instagram, and of course their AI will optimize against that.

So it’s critical to understand that Someone Else’s AI is not our friend, not our ally. At best, they’re a temporary help to us, but our priority should always be to evacuate our audience and customers from Someone Else’s AI as quickly as we possibly can into a channel where there’s nothing between us and our customers.

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Events with links have purchased sponsorships in this newsletter and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

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My company, Trust Insights, maintains business partnerships with companies including, but not limited to, IBM, Cisco Systems, Amazon, Talkwalker, MarketingProfs, MarketMuse, Agorapulse, Hubspot, Informa, Demandbase, The Marketing AI Institute, and others. While links shared from partners are not explicit endorsements, nor do they directly financially benefit Trust Insights, a commercial relationship exists for which Trust Insights may receive indirect financial benefit, and thus I may receive indirect financial benefit from them as well.

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See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


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